The House Of Shadows
A Leave of Absence
As soon as the door to his office flung open, he knew what news would come next.
“Sir.” His most trusted assistant started.
Hand held up as to stop him mid sentence, the man at the desk sighed. “I know. I just wish it wasn’t so soon.”
“Then we must prepare. Do we have ships for the evacuation?” his assistant replied.
“We have some, not hardly enough however.” Sighing again, he looked up at the map hanging on the wall behind him.
A beautiful city, Methes Avonthes, rather large but with no defences besides the cliffs it rests upon. He knew this day would come however, so he planned well in advance.
Turning back to face his friend on the other side of the desk, he continued. “Light the beacon nearest the dockyard, hopefully our ships will spot it from home and arrive in time.”
Not that the ships were of any good. They were nothing more than decommissioned Kastellon frigates and river boats. If it came to battle, they would be completely useless. But hopefully it would never come to that.
His assistant nodded and ran back out the dark, tall door in which he came.
Still behind the desk, the red haired man quickly pulled out a satchel and started filling it with the documents upon his desk. As soon as he was finished, he unlocked the safe behind him and removed even more documents from banknotes, to past treaties, everything.
Getting up from the fine oak armchair, he grabbed his sea-blue traveling coat off the coatrack by the door and extinguished the candles in the room. Grabbing the leather satchel as he went, he started sprinting out the same dark door.
- - - - - -
Through the hallway and down the stairs he ran, as fast as he could, toward the south west side of town. Even at the dead of night, Methes was still a beautiful jewel of a city, but the time for sightseeing was not now. As he continued forward down the street, he heard yelling from the distance, just ahead of him.
Jumping into the nearby alleyway, he crept down and hid in the shadows as best he could. As the sounds grew closer and closer, he could hear their conversation.
“Are you sure this is our orders? To arrest him?” One of the men near shouted as he marched past his position in the alleyway. “Who gave you that order? He couldn't have!”
“Shut it and do as you’re told, soldier!” Another barked back.
As they marched into his view, he noticed they wore the regalia of the Alor military on their armor and near cursed.
The situation is a bit worse then I thought, but that's what contingency plans are for. He thought to himself.
Now out of earshot of the soldiers, he leaned out from the shadows and looked either direction for anyone or anything, but found nothing.
Stepping out into the moonlit street, he continued his sprint towards the rendezvous point.
- - - - - -
The tavern was a pretty good place to visit back when it’s owner was alive and well. Now, it looked like any old run down abandoned building in town, dark, cold, and empty.
Looking left, then right to make sure there was no one following him, he took a deep, exhausted breath.
Walking up to the bolted and chained oak front double-doors, he pulled out a key from his satchel and unlocked it, taking the bolt and chain with him as he entered.
A few moments later, his friend arrived.
“Took you long enough!” Rhykker said jovially. “Was there any problems along the way?”
Yordan gave him a blank stare in return, took the lock from his hands, and locked the door behind him. “I lit the beacon but I don’t think the ships will arrive in time. Whoever wants you arrested even took efforts to call in the military.”
After yet another long sigh,“Yes, I overheard one of the squadrons on the way here.” he replied solemnly.
“Then we have precious little time.” Yordan affirmed. Walking over to the back of the bar, he turned one of the many nozzles on the kegs, and a passage opened behind him.
“Lady’s first.” Yordan jokingly said, motioning toward the opening while staring at his Patriarch.
Giving him a hateful glare in return, Rhykker entered the small opening in the wall, Yordan not long behind, and the passage closed behind them.
As they walked down the stone corridor, they talked amongst themselves about who would have the most to gain with the arrest of a Lector General, but they simply could not find an obvious answer. The Orator Princes were a scheming lot, but they weren’t insane.
No matter who it is, my time here in this land is through. Rhykker thought to himself once again.
As they both neared the end of the hallway, they each took their turn to enter the passage into the large chamber beyond.
Looking around, the chamber was one big sphere with symbols emblazoned into the smooth, stone floor and from it, large columns rose to join with the ceiling of the high, carved room.
The assassins guild hideout here in Methes. He continued in thought. I wonder if they ever knew that I knew of its location.
“Do you think they know we are here?” Yordan asked quizzically, as if knowing what his cousin had on his mind.
“Who?” Rhykker replied in kind, staring back at him with his piercing green-gray eyes. “The assassins or the Alor after us?”
“Both.” Yordan restated.
“Unlikely, assassinations have been less often as of late when they went into hiding, and I highly doubt many Alor, if any, know of this place’s existence.”
Or at least I hope that is the case, he internally prayed. “Now, look around for the secret passageway.”
As they looked around through the darkness, torches now in hand, both men scoured the room for the switch leading toward an exit point. As Rhykker raised his torch to see clearly the face of the wall before him, he noticed not two, but three shadows reflecting off of Yordan’s own flame from behind him, his own, Yordan’s shadow, and one other.
Spinning around with lightning speed, iron sword drawn, Rhykker scanned the room but nothing was there.
“Did you see that?!” He turned to Yordan, his face a shade or two whiter than before.
“No…wh-?” He started to reply in confusion, but suddenly his eyes opened wide with fear. “Behind you!”
Not taking the time to turn around, Rhykker dropped to the floor and rolled backwards behind his foe, but it wasn’t at all what he had expected to see. As he stood back up, he realized he was staring into a moving dark cloud or mist, with eyes as red as the Nether itself.
“You….” The creature started to reply. “You did this!”
The ghostlike being swiped at him with it’s long, talon-like fingers, barely missing the top of the Patriarch’s head as he dodged the blow. At the same time, Yordan brandished his own weapon at the creature, but it never made contact.
Turning around in anger, the spectre grabbed Yordan up by the throat and started to choke out the very life within him.
Trying to land a punch to distract it, Rhykker’s hand fell through the creature. It wasn’t real, he thought. Or it wasn’t human. Then suddenly, he remembered.
The day House Kastellon fell, dark creatures attacked the living and all of the House’s leadership were taken captive or killed. He thought it all rumor, yet hardly anyone survived the ordeal.
He, himself, was outside of Aloreh at the time, and when he returned, Altharia was all but the beautiful city he once knew. The remaining Kastellons assumed it was some sort of an ambush by Alor House rivals or perhaps a bargain with a god gone wrong. But maybe it was, something else.
Snapping out of thought, he swung out with his enchanted iron blade, slicing into the back of the shadowy being before him. This time, it seemed to connect, and with it, horrifyingly ear piercing screams followed. The deafening wail forced him to his knees. With his vision doubled by the sound, he felt he needed to puke his guts out, but he held it together and stood back up again.
Turning to the blue coated noble who had just attacked him, the shadow dropped Yordan hard onto the stone floor and let out another huge swipe with its clawed right hand. He didn't miss either.
As the creature raked out with its arm, Rhykker barely managed to dodge to the side. It was all he could do from getting himself killed. Had he not moved as he had done, he would have been a few pounds lighter on top. However, the fiend just barely managed to catch him right across the left side of his face, from the forehead down to the cheek.
Almost blinded by the pain of it, he struggled to stand and fight. However the spirit, or whatever it was, started to sap his very life essence from the deep wound across his face.
Staring deeply into Rhykker’s eyes, one covered in gore, the phantom continued speaking in its deep, terrifying voice. “I must end your existance, to end my torment!”
Grabbing the man by the white shirt under his coat, the monstrosity pushed him backward and slammed his head, hard, on the stone floor behind him.
The pain kept on coming, wave after fresh wave, as the spectre proceeded to pick the nobleman up by his clothing just to then slam him horizontally against the ground, again and again and again.
Rhykker’s vision blurred, and he could taste blood in his mouth. He knew he wouldn’t last much longer, but could not think of a way out either.
“These are going to be my last moments on A’therys.” he thought to himself with pity, “Being body slammed by an unkillable cloud of all things!”
It finally stopped, dropping him onto the, now cracked, ground one final time.
Head throbbing in pain, vision blurred, and all sense of himself now lost, Rhykker looked around lazily, slowly scanning the dark, tomb-like crypt that would soon be his grave. About twenty paces away, lie Yordan’s crumpled body, chest unmoving.
Rhykker sluggishly, and with much effort, crawled toward his cousin, hoping to reach him, to save him. But before he could even make a quarter of the distance on his hands and knees, the creature that attacked him fully materialized between the two noblemen, blocking his path.
No longer was it a shifting mist of darkness with eyes of blood-red hate, but instead, a man-shaped being in full plate armor, dark as night and adorned by flowing garments of red and black regalia. The eye slits built within the jagged, spiked helmet it wore upon its head only exposed the same dark red rage as before, but all other features were well hidden behind the ornate, but obviously worn, armor.
The now armored phantom placed a heavy plated boot atop the nobleman’s hand, stopping his crawl, however he felt no pain from it. He could only sense the pain in his head.
Crouching down, armored helm but a few inches from Rhykker’s own bruised and battered face, the creature spoke in a tongue the Lector General could not understand.
“Tawlach O’r Leth,” it said, slowly and methodically, almost as if reciting something of importance. “Oleuct...Gwybdol...Nog”
As soon as the final word was uttered from behind the sinister metal faceplate, it stood up, fast as lightning, spun around, summoned a black-metal iron sword and drove it straight through Rhykker’s back and into his heart.
As the pain enveloped him and everything started to slowly fade to black, all he saw around him were eyes, thousands of them, as dark and purple as the void...staring back.
- - - - - -
Aeolos stood up and stared outside through one of the tall, stained-glass windows of the Orator Courtroom, wondering where of all places his nation’s Lector General could be. It had been near half a season since anyone last heard from him. Rhykker Shadowcloak was not known to be this late, though punctual was not one of his more notable qualities. Even among his own subjects in Trachonos, none knew of his whereabouts.
This is deeply concerning, he thought to himself. If my sources are correct, there may have been someone after him, attempting to take his place perhaps? Who could say, there were no traces of struggle, no bodies. A well thought out abduction perhaps, but very unlikely.
No matter the situation, the city of Methes Avonthes needed a new Lector General to replace him, and the Nation as a whole could not function without both a Lector and a High Mediator preventing the other Houses from killing one another for power. So today, the Houses decided to conduct a meeting on the very situation.
Turning back toward the elaborately decorated meeting hall, his eyes met with Galindaan’s and both nodded toward one another in respect. As other notables entered the room, nearly at the last minute as usual, the doors shut tight and Alor guardsmen marched out of the room to secure the exits and remain out of earshot of the Orator Princes and their important business.
Now standing in front of his Noble House’s assigned seating, he looked around at the familiar faces in the room, nodded and smiled to a fair few, and took his seat. The others soon followed suit, and the council started off as usual. Some nobles talked about a rather intriguing party later in the week, others discussed drinking and their favorite wine or ale, but finally, the room grew quiet as they all soon noticed no one was there to kick off the gathering as per usual.
Clearing his throat, Galindaan started first. “As you all must be fully aware, our Lector General and Patriarch of House Shadowcloak, Rhykker, is not with us today.”
The resulting silence was deafening. Most respected the man, others feared he may have perished, or perhaps was abducted, or even worse, arrested. A smaller number believed he just simply left and went into hiding. No one knew for certain, but all awaited eagerly for Galindaan’s words.
Pausing briefly for suspense, Galindaan continued. “So we are gathered here today to discuss whom the mantle of Lector General should pass to next.”
At that, the room burst into chatter, shouts, complaints, and talks of conspiracy theories. Aeolos simply waited patiently as Galindaan Thewisy V let the noise die down on its own. As soon as the room grew quiet enough, he continued with his speech.
“That is why I, and my fellow Orators I’ve had the pleasure to talk to since this tragedy started, have decided that we should have a vote.”
The Orator Princes either nodded, grunted in acceptance, or simply said nothing. One or two started yelling out names of those they thought most qualified for the job, another burped after gulping down two whole pints of Methes brewed ale.
“This vote will be proper and respectful, and all who wish to run for the Office of Lector General must state they wish to do so at the earliest convenience before the end of the season.” Galindaan paused to take a swing of his own homebrewed wine on the table before him, then concluded. “And I have decided to nominate myself for the position.”